Offline retailers vs online retailers

We need a Playbook for offline retailers to combat the onslaught of online retailers in India.

Fundamentally, all online sales are devoid of an emotional connect. Its purely transactional. You need something and maybe you get it at a discount. There is no joy, no experience and no guidance during the purchase [beyond a pithy ‘recommended for you’].
Offline businesses have been built on years of relationships and trust. It is time to leverage that and counter venture funded e-retail.

The truth is what got you here, will not get you there. You need a new playbook. The rules of the game have been changed. You need to play by the rules and create some of your own.

1. Personalise – Online retail thrives on personalisation. Ecommerce players use extensive data analysis to track purchases and create recommendation lists. Today’s consumer expects personalized offers and recognition. Start with your best customers. Track, target & personalise. Analyse purchase histories, create multiple buckets of consumers and generate special communication that will appeal to that narrow niche. Deploy a stable SaaS product like Salesforce and develop your own tools to tag customers. Build funnels. Build consumer personas. Not fed by the imagination of marketing folks or focus groups but powered by real consumer data and heatmaps of digital behavior. Community marketing.

2. Create Properties – you cannot keep buying media. And you definitely cannot match the deep pockets of some well-funded online retailers. Create your own digital / offline properties and leverage those to announce new product arrivals, season’s specials and niche events. Think Twitter competitions, Facebook Pages, Branded contests & enthusiasts / communities around specific consumer interests / social objects.

3. Lead with your digital agency. A good digital agency should be able to deliver Strategy, Creative & Technology seamlessly. Reduce the involvement of your mainline agency to creative and other offline stuff that you still need to do. Alongside, hire people who understand digital marketing tactics. Shift your media spends to digital marketing and run small experiments in partnership with your agency.

4. Run multiple campaigns. The online store never sleeps. Every hour of every day, online retailers run multiple acquisition campaigns. This is not the time for ‘big idea’ campaigns that will sap your media budgets leaving you hobbled and invisible after the campaign runs its course. Use Search, Video, Social Media & every other tool in the digital arsenal. Run granular campaigns. They are more difficult to manage and track but a competent digital agency and a good digital infrastructure should be able to handle it. The days of one campaign with a ‘key visual’ are over. You need a 100 key visuals. Or perhaps you don’t. Buy stock images from image banks and run with them.

5. Video, Apps, Mobile sites are all standard marketing items now. Production costs for each of these items have dropped dramatically.

6. Loosen up about your brand a little. Your brand is no longer a bearded fellow sitting in a wood paneled room. Re-imagine it as a playful entity. Have fun. Sometimes at your own expense.

7. Speed is everything. Facebook founder has a poster in his office that says ‘Done is Better than Perfect’. Ship. Keep breaking things and fixing them. Move fast. Target each festival, special day and enthusiast community.

8. Build a digital command center. This is your war room. People it with folks across age, gender & skills.

9. Levearge your offline presence. This is one thing that most online retailers don’t yet have. At least not in the way that traditional retail does.

10. Get with the times. The online community punishes sexist, boorish behavior. Cheap humour may be easy but its going to stymie your brand’s popularity. Be cool. Be courageous. Be honest. Do not fear the occasional backlash related to a faulty product or bad service. Everyone has a bad day. Handle it head on. See how well the online retailers handle goof ups. Even at colossal scales. Public memory is short. Make sure your mistakes are a thing of yesterday by taking them on head on.

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